The notion of the archipelago has seen many instantiations in Berlin. From the political, psychological and physical realities of the current and former city, to O.M. Ungers and Rem Koolhaas' Green Archipelago for Berlin and John Hejduk's proposed trilogy of interventions for Berlin, collected fragmentation defines the city.
Berlin's fragmented and conflicted physical reality stands a visible consequence of its disparate, successive political pasts. From the German Empire, Weimar Republic, Nazism, war, and division, to reunification and reconstruction, the city is perhaps more than any other an exquisite corpse of fragmented identities. Both the city's urban forms and voids are curated evidence of these identities, with the weight of architectures that no longer exist weighing as heavily in the collective psyche of the city as those that do exist. Reconstruction and preservation consciously maintain evidence of both destructive and constructive events, allowing Berlin to continue as an archipelago of pieces and identities, both architectural and urban in scale.
O.M. Ungers and Rem Koolhaas set out the Green Archipelago in 1977 as a solution to the shrinking cities of the time. In the post-war period, European cities faced a devalued city fabric with an increasing amount of generic infill which diluted and degraded pivotal cultural neighborhoods. Ungers proposed an act of urban amputation to strengthen and preserve these neighborhoods, intensifying the city of Berlin into an archipelago of pieces each with a distinct morphological identity, and connected by a neutral park setting which would act as a 'green glue'. This reduction of the city, yes, was conceptually pivotal in allowing a node-based understanding of urban settings, but in the particular example of Berlin, also reveals the essential disposition of the city: as a fragmented collective. Just as Hausmann's Paris represents the ideal 19th century city and Manhattan the 20th century city, Berlin is the platonic polycentric urban landscape.
In this context, John Hejduk's interventions for Berlin--The Berlin Masque, The Victims, and Berlin Night--seems particularly apt. Hejduk proposes a collection of architectural and narrative pieces which are placed throughout the city, a scattered archipelago amongst the existing collected fragments that comprise the city. Perhaps this is the only way to deal with a place as fragmented as Berlin--to acknowledge and multiply the fragments, relying on juxtaposition and multiplying the collection of pieces to intensify and build upon the relationships between pieces rather than deny the principle that underlies the city.
On the finer scale of architectural form and even architectural detail, this fragmentation perseveres. Preserved fragments of the Berlin Wall and Schlottstass are island ruins within the city. David Chipperfield's Neue Museum stitches together the ruined shell of multiple buildings, preserving bullet holes and plaster fragments while inserting a new modern architecture amongst it all. The recent Boros Collection surgically modifies and layers onto the Luftschutzbunker, a former air-raid shelter for the Nazi regime. Overbuilt and urbanistically isolated as a monument to Nazi victory, allowed to decay after the war, used as a warehouse, fetish club, and performance space, the building is sliced, restitched, added onto, and each of its former and ongoing identities preserved.
I desperately want to find a meaningful interaction between all the different types of fragmentation and archipelagos that saturate Berlin's political past, physical present, and proposed futures, and I believe that something crucial can be understood from this platonic polycentric city--the way it operates as an archipelago in a recursive, almost fractal manner from the architectural to the urban, and the way it operates in time, in relation to identity, history, and newness.
This sets the stage to introduce the main objective of my research and travel for the coming months: to understand architectural palimpsests through the lens of various cities that each represents a paradigmatic approach.